Jordan Leopold was assigned the locker closest to the front entry into the Wild locker room. The space to his right was occupied by Matt Dumba.
On Tuesday night, Leopold, 34, was in the lineup for his 678th regular-season game in the NHL, and Dumba, 20, was playing in his 52nd.
There was some time for small talk on Leopold’s first day with the Wild, and Dumba mentioned that he was an excited 10-year-old kid in Calgary in 2004 as the Flames pushed their way into the Stanley Cup finals (where they lost in seven games to Tampa Bay).
“I told ‘Leo’ that I watched him when I was a young kid in Calgary during that Stanley Cup run,’’ Dumba said. “He was part of that, a big part ... a player that I tried to pattern myself after as a defenseman.
“It’s crazy to be sitting next to him now in an NHL locker room.’’
Leopold was 23 that season and rated with Robyn Regehr as the most-used Flames players at 22 minutes per game. Eleven seasons later, he’s with his ninth team (counting Calgary twice) and has been brought to the Wild as a self-admitted “depth defenseman.’’
That depth came in handy on Tuesday night, as Nate Prosser left the game with illness and the Wild was down to five defensemen. Leopold played 17 minutes-plus, after seeing very little action in Columbus in recent weeks.
Dumba played 19 ½ minutes. He also scored the two goals that got the Wild into extra time against Ottawa, and then the Skating Ws stayed hot with a 3-2 win in a shootout.
They now have won 14 of 17. Really. Fourteen of 17.
The biggest change from the earlier doldrums has been in goal with Devan Dubnyk, who set a club record by making his 21st consecutive start on Tuesday. Six weeks ago, the playoffs seemed remote, but the Dubnyk-fueled revival was so impressive that General Manager Chuck Fletcher was very aggressive before the trading deadline.
Yes, Fletch said, "We live,'' and first he traded for left wing Sean Bergenheim last week, then right wing Chris Stewart and the insurance defender, Leopold, on Monday’s trading deadline.
The hockey man, Louie Nanne, was in the press box on Tuesday night and said: “Stewart was absolutely what they needed … a big forward with skill. And the way the defense has been sick or banged up all season, it’s good to have a veteran like Leopold available.’’
There’s another vital improvement in this team … and that’s the improvement seen on a nightly basis with Dumba, the kid from Calgary who was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The Wild looked at Dumba for 13 games last season. He was in Iowa twice this season, but now he has become a lineup fixture, and he’s already the most-dynamic offensive player among the blue liners.
Jonas Brodin had a brief stay in Houston early in the 2012-13 season, then received raves as a 19-year-old rookie defenseman. Two years later, the raves are starting for the 20-year-old Dumba; maybe not as steady a hand as Brodin, but a kid who is much more dangerous in the neighborhood of the puck.
Dumba was asked after Tuesday’s victory when was the last time he scored twice. “Has to be back in juniors,’’ Dumba said.
Never in the pros? “Maybe in Iowa; I'm not sure,’’ he said. “This was fun, not only the goals, but the fact we won again tonight and kept this going.''
Leopold, a 12-season veteran but a Wild newcomer, was asked his impression of Dumba.
“I was with St. Louis when we played the Wild in an exhibition game before this season,’’ Leopold said. “Dumba played that night. I could see he was a good player.’’
It can be seen more clearly now as the rookie becomes an important factor in this blitz toward the playoffs, and who knows where after that.
Leopold was talking postgame about this Wild team perhaps “doing something that hasn’t been done here before,’’ and recalled how his home state reacted to a couple of Twins’ championships when he was a kid, and ...
I can't be sure, but on his first night with the Wild, I think Jordan Leopold was dropping a vision of a Stanley Cup on his fellow Minnesotans..